I will be owing money on loans I took out to finance my schooling for the remainder of my life, unless I write inspired by a true story, inspired by real events. “Be sure,” I instruct myself. I have power from this point hence to change the nature of my chains. Senses are but a portion, an iceberg-tip, of one’s soul. Tense and relax, inhale and exhale; liberate energy by communicating with feeling from one’s body. One shall think of events as little plays in which one is the leading character. Keep track of changes, mark victories. Take long, deep, slow, breaths. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Exhale completely. Make one’s philosophy pragmatic and operational. Against all adversity, prevail.
Sarah pulls up a new Netflix original series based on the Margaret Atwood novel, Alias Grace.
The series begins with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted / One need not be a House / The brain has Corridors — surpassing / Material Place.” How are we, each of us, so many different things at once? Stories within stories — but common to all, a fiery red anger, which keeps us wide-eyed, awake, and watchful. In Atwood’s world, characters do little but advance plot, their hard lives shortly the ends of them. Character is a device for the transmission of historical circumstance. Eyes open, little time to pretend. Systems that employ persons as servants or slaves are things to despise. Stars blink down at me. An acorn falls from a tree. I am seeing as if montaged across my forehead a cloud of imagery. We are headed toward the bad future: hierarchical, inauthentic. “Where any view of Money exists, Art cannot be carried on, but War only. […]. Art Degraded, Imagination Denied, War Governed the Nations.” So reads Blake’s engraving of the Laocoon. I find in this work words uttered as if by a prophet. Light and shadow. Eyelid movies all my own. Voices, too, telling stories of things not visible. One of these days I should try to design a course on either Noble Savagery or the idea of the wild. The failure of the hippie counterculture over the course of the 1970s signaled the decline of these ideas as significant components of American identity. Wildness is no longer a major trope in the American national-political unconscious — and I regard this as a great tragedy, a decline we ought to mourn. Atwood’s character says, “God is everywhere. He can’t be caged as men can.” Yet the world is all predators and prey. When the weather is like that, one’s heart pounds in one’s ears, make of that what one may.
My students are reading Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic classic The Doors of Perception this week. I’ve taught the book a number of times over the years, but I’m only just now getting around to reading Huxley’s follow-up essay, Heaven and Hell, published two years later in 1956.
To be honest, though (and judging only from what I’ve read so far), I’m finding this latter work to be somewhat underwhelming. Huxley begins by asserting that heightened attention to light and color are common features of visionary experience. “The visions met with under the influence of mescalin or hypnosis,” he writes, “are always intensely and, one might say, preternaturally brilliant in color” (89). As support for this claim, Huxley cites lines from visionary works of poetry like Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” as well as relevant passages from mystical texts like Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations and Irish theosophist Æ’s Candle of Vision. Readers of these trance-scripts will find much of interest (including several valuable leads for further research) in this section of Huxley’s work. My sense, however, is that from this point onward, Huxley grows a bit too enamored with his thesis about light and color. Curtain lifted, he trails off into a lengthy, multi-page digression dealing with the history of humanity’s fascination with gemstones, stained glass, and related kinds of shiny objects. Huxley believes that religious traditions value these objects because of their resemblance to the self-luminous “stones of fire” that are said to populate the otherworldly inner landscapes encountered by visionaries of all ages. “Hence man’s otherwise inexplicable passion for gems,” he writes, “and hence his attribution to precious stones of therapeutic and magical virtue” (103). As a brief aside, let me add that there’s an interesting passage in the midst of this excursus where Huxley speaks of hypnotists who use shiny objects to lead subjects into trance states. “How, precisely,” he asks, “does the view of a shiny object induce a trance or a state of reverie? Is it, as the Victorians maintained, a simple matter of eye strain resulting in general nervous exhaustion? Or shall we explain the phenomenon in purely psychological terms—as concentration pushed to the point of mono-ideism and leading to dissociation?” Huxley himself prefers a third possibility. “Shiny objects,” he writes, “may remind our unconscious of what it enjoys at the mind’s antipodes, and these obscure intimations of life in the Other World are so fascinating that we pay less attention to this world and so become capable of experiencing consciously something of that which, unconsciously, is always with us” (106). Speaking of which: with a burning sensation at the back of my throat, vaguely reminiscent of asthma attacks from childhood, I mark my place in the book with a folded receipt and ascend to Huxley’s “Other World.” As that phrase suggests, Heaven and Hell is rife with spatial metaphors, some of them wince-inducing in ways that demand postcolonialist reading, as for instance when, at the beginning of the book, the tastelessly Eurocentric Huxley digs himself a hole by writing, “Like the earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its darkest Africas, its unmapped Borneos and Amazonian basins” (83). Fortunately it looks like there’s substantial criticism of Huxley on these grounds, as in Lindsey Michael Banco’s Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature and Sharae Deckard’s Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden. To hallucinate means “to wander in the mind.”
Check for blockages. Free oneself from what Christian theologian John Howard Yoder calls “the Powers.” Like Sartre’s “practico-inert,” the Powers name a given form of the world, a “mode of production” that produces individual subjects addicted to that mode’s reproduction. We must try to model for others another way: a life that, through psychedelic resistance to interpellation, sheds its determination by the Powers, thus allowing an improvised, moment-to-moment stepping forth of something new. (Yoder himself, by the way, failed terribly in this regard. He usefully reframed the story of Christianity in countercultural terms, with Christ serving as the preeminent example of how an individual’s refusal to be determined by the Powers can prompt “the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values and its coherent way of articulating them.” But when Yoder himself attempted a similar refusal, positing “intimacy” as a means by which to challenge the world as given, it appears he did so without seeking the consent of others, his legacy thus marred by multiple charges of sexual abuse.) I stare at walls and wonder, what shall step forth today? What new mode of being shall cross through the cracks as we alter the constitution of the given? As Robert Masters and Jean Houston note in their book Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space, “Man is still something to be realized” (5). From this point forward, I will attempt to assume my role as “guide.” I will bring back from each day’s trance something of value to enrich other heads (and through them, the General Intellect.) Becoming fully aware means becoming one with all that is. Should make you smile. What we’re trying to escape is a cultural trance where, as Masters and Houston note, “we all dream the same dream, more or less, and call it: reality” (13). I feel infinitely more well-provisioned after grilling myself a couple hot dogs. I care about consensus reality only inasmuch as it is there where I get to care for those I love. I care, too, though, for their entire life-body relation, their full organic and inorganic being. Where do we draw the line between that and the whole of nature? Perhaps these experiments need to be performed in groups, each member becoming for the others their Ezekiel.
With my eyes closed, I imagine from an external vantage point the sight of my arms held above me. As if into a phone, I request the identity of the one with whom I speak with the phrase, “Who’s calling?” “Nevermind that, now,” it answers, “let me buy you a drink.” I pull the phone away from my ear and stare at it. My head drops through the screen and tumbles downward, as if into a fantasized space. I unlock a new level, where life resembles Campbell Logan’s video for D/A/D’s “Orion Beach.”
I listened as a wonderful time-lag unfurled between the sound of my voice and the act of my speaking. As I sat up from my reveries beside a fire-pit the other night during magic hour, the air rich with a choir of cicadas, something in the experience awakened in me a memory of the drunken interplay of voice and sampled sound in the virtual acoustic space of Blonde Redhead’s “In an Expression of the Inexpressible,” a track I hadn’t blasted in at least a decade.
“You have but one solution,” says the statue, as one’s hand whispers in one’s ear. “You must enter the looking glass — and once there, you must walk.” When the shadow of what looks like a telephone gets a pin in its ear, I wince and shudder. Through the process of identification, I become other. Through a keyhole, an angel captures me with a spinning Hypno Disk. The poet’s eye is pulled as if by gravity, whereas off to the side springs the Cartesian Ego. Cocteau advises, “Mirrors would do well to reflect more before sending back images.” Like in videogames, creation often requires repeating levels. Have I broken too many statues? I work by associative logic and montage. A small voice beside the pounding of my heart says, “I can’t think, I can’t think!” against the unsynced clapping of a crowd. René Gilson’s assessment captures the essentials: “That which reveals itself is a vision of the invisible.” One must “dream the film subjectively,” by identifying it with one’s own experiences. One may think of it as the equivalent of sensing invisible tapestries with one’s dead antennae. But sometimes one’s own experience is just one’s own experience, as when my head goes nuts to Mariah’s “Hana Ga Saitara.”
I feel compelled to write my work this way, however crooked or stoned — for it needs to be written, and I cannot write it otherwise. A real act of hypnosis occurs. Hypnos is the god of sleep, whose abode is Erebus, eternal darkness. He carries his inverted torch when I lower my lighter-flame to my pipe. The circle within the triangle is the symbol that supplies a perfect field for scrying. But receptivity is not the same as submission. I suggest that you investigate the website of Ordo Astri: The Order of the Star. The central experience of the Initiate to the order is “the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.” The aim of this group is “Gnosis or Illumination, not belief.” Alongside my work as an instructor at a nearby university, I must also enroll in an Invisible Collegium. The faculty of this Collegium are Illuminated Souls who communicate through symbols. Ordo Astri itself is one such means. Their website tells me, for instance, to picture Horus as my Holy Guardian Angel, polymorphic and thus passing through many layers of form, these latter occasionally viewed out of the bottom of my eye all at once on a single plane. I’m disappointed, though, when the magical system introduces the need for adversaries, dwelling at the threshold between stages of Illumination’s unfolding. Of these stages, there are three: the Invisible Order of the Silver Star, the Inner Order of the Rosy Cross, and the Outer Order of the Golden Dawn. At that point, I lose contact: these man-made systems have too many rules. But what if, on second thought, I were to click on the link to their book, The Enterer of the Threshold? Nothing, as it so happens — as one has to pay to read it. Robert Pirsig’s book, meanwhile, is oddly precise in evoking a scenario similar to the one I’ve arrived at with my courses on “Hip” — for the latter is a type of Quality, like the kind Phaedrus asked his students to write about when he was teaching up in Bozeman. This is just me checking in with myself about my emotions. Scanning into the silent interruption time of a streamed performance. The webcammer as stoned author of automatic speech. One who scans one’s contacts and selects inner voices at will. Perception’ll get blurry, you’ll start slurring “where was I?” Early onset Alzheimer’s. And the world feels like children playing games, some of them terrible and cruel. The sense Kurt Cobain captured with such economy in Nirvana’s “School.”